Last deep coal mine in South Wales on the brink of closure: Once there were 270,000 miners in the Valleys. Today there are 400. Next week there may be none, reports Barrie Clement

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The Independent Online
BRITISH COAL yesterday signalled the end of an industry that has dominated the life and culture of South Wales for most of this century.

The last deep-mine pit in the area, the Tower colliery near Aberdare, has outlived its usefulness and so have the 400 workers it employs, management has decided. 'The market' has put paid to a way of life which spawned internationally renowned male voice choirs and some of the world's best rugby teams. The dominance of the industry, however, distorted the local economy and has long since become a depressing and outmoded cliche for those who live in South Wales.

In the 1920s there were more than 270,000 pitmen - at the end of the 1984-85 strike, the figure had slumped to around 15,000.

The last British Coal miners in South Wales were given a stark choice yesterday. Management said pitmen at Tower could fight to keep the pit open, or get an extra pounds 7,000 a head pay-off for accepting its closure. Production will cease in eight days' time, miners' representatives were told.

Tyrone O'Sullivan, National Union of Mineworkers' secretary at the mine, will attempt to persuade 200 NUM members at a meeting on Saturday that it is worth fighting for the future of the pit through the industry's colliery review procedure.

In all, there will be more than 400 redundancies in a severely depressed area which relies on the pit for much of its income. Mr O'Sullivan said: 'I will have to think very seriously about this offer. I'm a married man with two children. But I think it will take more than pounds 7,000 for me to sell my principles. If we can win this vote and hold it, we can show these people up for what they are. They are trying to blackmail us.

'The fight is on to save the pit. I am very confident. They have more to fear than we have. We can prove that Tower colliery is a viable pit for the future.'

Mr O'Sullivan is aware of the pressures on his members. New employers in the area are few and far between and those that venture into the Cynon valley offer jobs largely taken by women who earn little more than pounds 150 a week. The valley has long since lost its reputation as a God-fearing, close-knit community. Nearly one in five men are out of work and drug abuse and crime are endemic among the young.

The closure decision was announced by Eddy Hindmarsh, British Coal's head of operations. He told the men that operations were no longer justified because of declining demand.

Mr Hindmarsh added: 'The sad truth is that while Tower colliery has recorded a good performance operationally in the last 12 months, the future looks very bleak.'

Yesterday's closure announcement came only days after British Coal confirmed that existing redundancy terms expire at the end of April. Under current terms, maximum payments to a miner with 25 years' service, earning pounds 300 a week, could be pounds 27,000 plus a supplement of pounds 10,000. British Coal makes a pounds 7,000 extra payment if the miners do not go to the review process.

If the miners accept closure, Tower will be put on a care and maintenance basis before it is offered for sale.

(Photograph omitted)